Growing food is awesome and there are many ways to do it. But growing food in your own edible garden right there in your backyard, front yard, balcony or patio gives you the opportunity to really integrate the growing into your lifestyle.
Designing an edible garden like this means you are going to integrate edible foods into your existing garden. This may seem like a challenge, but this post will show you a few guidelines to make designing an edible garden fun and easy.
Remember that every plant can be beautiful
Some people think that vegetable gardens need to be kept separate from our conventional gardens, because vegetable plants are ‘ugly’. That’s probably because in the ‘traditional’ vegetable garden we know everything is grown in rows, that contain a lot of the same plants. Of course this can be a little boring, besides that.. when disease strikes your lettuce or tomato plants your garden can look quite sad.
Designing an edible garden is about making food look pretty. Like it’s supposed to be. Every plant can be beautiful, like every person. Sometimes it just takes a little consideration to place them somewhere they can shine.
Most people pick plants because of their flowers. But when you think about it, flowers only stay a short period of time, while the other aspects of a plant will stay around for much longer. Leaves can have all kinds of structures with many different colors, plants can be low or tall, tiny or majestic. These are the things we need to keep in mind when we look at the different kinds of edible plants we use in our gardens.
Think about tomatoes and strawberries, classical crops for a vegetable patch. But when combined in the right way, these plants can be hugely ornamental with their abundance of tiny little flowers and beautiful red fruits.
Define your style
We all have our preferences. Your garden should be a personal expression of who you are. It’s all about creating a place you love to be. So what do you like? What is your style?
Maybe you like modern, with square shapes and neatly confined spaces. But you might as well like the more classical approach with rounded edges, swirling little paths and tiny corners.
Take a look at your existing garden, are you happy with your style?
The best way to define your (edible) garden style is reading some beautiful garden books. You can also browse a few websites like: www.rosalindcreasy.com
Look at the photos and define what you like. The colors, the shapes the textures, everything.
Now you have an idea of what your edible garden should look like. It’s time to design something beautiful!
Building blocks of your edible garden
Every garden needs some structure. This is the start of your design, we’ll call them building blocks.
The building blocks of an edible garden in your yard often consist out of fences and paths. These are the building blocks that are already defined and it’s easiest to work with them as they are.
Do think about your paths for a while, because you need to access your garden beds easily without standing on the soil. If your beds are too wide you could use a few small stepping-stones.
Other building blocks in your gardens structure are borders. It’s a great idea to define a few spaces in your garden with borders. This looks pretty and guides the eye. Some edible border plants that you could use are wild strawberries, thyme, lavender, chives (with beautiful flowers) and violets. These plants are perennial, so you’ll only have to plant them once.
You can also define a space by making a raised bed from wood or stones. Using different heights in your garden makes it interesting. Instead of raised beds you could use pots and containers in different sizes to grow some amazing food.
In an edible garden you can use the support systems for your plants as building blocks. They can become ornaments in your garden. For example a pergola with grapes or beans. Strategically places tipis made from bamboo stalks can be a beautiful feature in your garden because of their shape and height. You can make a living green wall with blackberries (Evergreen) or a fruit tree espalier to hide your garbage cans. Use your fences to grow food, make them look pretty.
The key is to think about clever ways to grow vertically.
Use your space wisely
Because most of us just have that much space near our houses to grow an edible garden, we’ll have to use the space we have wisely. That’s why growing in the traditional ‘row-based’ system is not the way to go. I also think it looks much prettier to grow different kinds of plants together and plants like some company too (it’s called companion planting)! Intensive gardening tactics give higher yields and make better use of the space you have. (Try google for interplanting and succession planting)
Think about what your plants like and what your garden has to offer. Notice the hours of sun different places in your garden enjoy. Some plants need a lot of sun, for example tomatoes and peppers, but others grow better in the shade, like lettuce. Some plants grow best vertically or need a lot of space. Remember to design a beautiful garden to your plants needs.
Planting and harvesting all year-long
There is only one tricky thing about the design of an edible garden. You are going to eat the plants.
Fortunately, unlike the traditional row-based system, you won’t harvest everything all at once. That’s why you have to learn a few intensive gardening skills.
You can design your garden in a way that there is always something interesting to see (or smell). This takes a little planning. Look up the maturity date of the (largest) plants in your garden. Make sure you can fill up the gaps once plants can be removed. This makes your garden even more productive!
Think about the different plants you would like to grow and how you can replace them. You could reserve a small space in your garden for potted young plants, waiting to be planted when a vacancy appears.
Don’t forget about (edible) flowers! A lot of crops needs pollination so you want to attract some little helpers like bees and butterflies. Flowers make your garden come to life and draw attention. You can even match the colors of various flowers with the other plants in your garden to create a nice little color scheme. Another nice feature in your garden are bulbs. Plant them deep so they don’t disturb the roots of your other plants.
Whatever you do, designing an edible garden should be fun. Don’t make things to complicated. Create a good base for your plants and learn from experience. Don’t delay because you think you can’t do it. Just create a relationship with your garden.You can teach and learn from each other.
What are your ideas on designing an edible garden?